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R.M.S. Lusitania was a British transatlantic liner owned by the Cunard Steamship Line Shipping Company. On May 7, 1915, German submarine U-20 torpedoed Lusitania in the area designated by the German government as an area of submarine warfare. The vessel sank 13 km from the coast of Ireland. 1198 people out of 1959 present on board died. The sinking of the passenger ship set up public opinion in many countries against Germany, including the neutral United States (Jones, 2001).
Reasons for the attack of the passenger ship by a German submarine initially caused confusion. The motto “Stoke them all!” did not exist among German submariners at that time; it appeared only during the WWII. German High Command tried to avoid attacking passenger ships since it brought little military advantage but caused splashes of negative public opinion. Cold-blooded sinking of a huge liner with two thousand people on board, who did not have any direct relation to military actions, changed the war. Lusitania sinking was one of the events breaking the whole system of mankind moral values. Such actions change people’s mentality, and even ovens of Auschwitz seem less monstrous after this.
2005 London Bombings
On July 7, 2005, four coordinated explosions were conducted in London by suicide bombers. In the morning, three London underground trains were blown up with an interval of 50 seconds. About an hour later, the fourth explosion took place in a bus at Tavistock Square.
The explosions killed 52 people including 4 suicide bombers, about 700 were injured. The fact that the bombers were citizens of the United Kingdom caused great resonance in British society. Moreover, 3 of them were born and raised in the UK; they studied in British schools. The terrorist act led to paralysis of the public transport system in London for the whole day. Besides, mobile networks also stopped working.
It was the largest terrorist attack by the number of victims in the history of Great Britain since the Lockerbie tragedy (aircraft bombing, 270 victims) and the largest explosion by the number of victims in London since the Second World War. In addition, this event is sometimes considered as the first act of terrorism committed by suicide bombers in Western Europe. The explosions took place during the first day of the Group of Eight summit held in the UK. Besides, a day before the bombings, London received the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (Goodhart, 2013).
Two weeks later, on July 21, 2005. there was one more attempt of terrorist attack in the subway and a bus in London. The bombs were powered, fuses worked, but none of the four bombs detonated; the fifth one was discarded by a terrorist without being activated. There were no casualties during the attack. Suspected terrorists tried to escape, but they were arrested and brought to justice. The next day, July 22, 2005, British policemen mistakenly killed a Brazilian citizen, Jean Charles de Menezes, at Stockwell subway station accidentally identifying him as a terrorist.
Disaster Similarities and Dissimilarities
Lusitania sinking and London bombings have certain common features. First of all, it is a big number of victims. Obviously, it is harder for people to survive after a ship disaster, that is why more people died in the first case. However, in the case of London terrorist attack, more people were injured and taken to hospitals. Besides, the survivors got a serious stress and received significant psychological damage. Another common feature of both events was their effect on the public opinion in the UK and other countries. Both attacks caused a wave of protests against Germany in the first case and against international terrorism in the second one.
Among dissimilarities of the disasters, political situation in the country must be mentioned. In 1915, it was wartime, and hundreds of ships were attacked. The very German submarine U-20 sank three British ships within one mission before torpedoing Lusitania. Therefore, people were used to German submarineattacks and did not treat them as something extraordinary. 2005 London bombings became somewhat surprising for British society. Of course, the government conducted regular anti-terrorism activities, but everyone hoped to avoid terrorist attacks in the UK. The psychological difference between the disasters is great. During the wartime, a person is internally ready for casualties and losses. In peacetime, such events are always unexpected in spite of news and announcements about possible attacks. So, in the second case the psychological damage is more serious.
Major Psychology Concepts Applied to the Disasters
Disasters provoke a conflict between the person’s natural wish to live and the fear of unexpected death. Psychology provides several concepts which can be helpful for the solution of this conflict.
Terror Management Theory
The terror management theory (TMT) was formulated by American psychologists, Sheldon Solomon, Tom Pyszczynski, and Jeff Greenberg in 1986. The authors identified it as a socio-psychological theory that included the ideas of existentialism and experimental data (Solomon, Greenberg & Pyszczynski, 1991). In order to survive while facing a horrific prospect of death, people have certain means not to be paralyzed with this horror (Hayes, Schimel, Ardnt, & Faucher, 2010). One of such means is culture, which works as a mass protection against death anxiety. Cultural elements, such as religion, patriotism, and general worldview, may help a person overcome the terror.
Both in the start of the 20th and 21st centuries, the disasters caused the raise of patriotic feelings among British people. Since ancient times, the feeling of unity with a group helped people survive in the hostile world. Later, it became a foundation of national identity and ability to divide everyone around into “we” and “they”. In 1915, Lusitania disaster made the British unite against the outer threat and fight together against Germany and its allies. Besides, the sense of unity with the British people spread across many other countries condemning the attack of the passenger ship. The raise of patriotism made people overcome the fear of death and sacrifice their lives to achieve victory.
The situation repeated once again in 2005. Same as a hundred years before, people in Britain and all over the world stood together against terrorist attacks. The British became “we” again uniting against terrorism. The only difference between the situations is the type of enemy. During the WWI, the border between “we” and “they” was a clear frontline and the uniform of the fighting sides. In the start of the 21st century, enemy identification is more complicated, but the main feature remains unchangeable: a close-knit nation is much harder to intimidate and terrorize.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
The posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental state that occurs as a result of traumatic situations, such as participation in military actions, heavy injury, terrorist acts, or a threat of death (American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2013). The PTSD symptoms are repetitive and are caused by obsessive replays of the traumatic event in the mind. The experienced stress is extremely intensive, and it sometimes even causes suicidal intentions in order to stop the attack. The PTSD is also characterized by recurring nightmares and involuntary reminiscences.
The PTSD features of people who survived the Lusitania disaster and the London bombings are similar. The survivors strenuously avoided thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma, as well as activities, places, or people that triggered those memories. Many people got thalassophobia, a fear of the sea, after the Lusitania disaster and different types of claustrophobia, first of all, underground fear, after the London bombings. The survivors suffered from psychogenic amnesia being unable to reproduce details about traumatic events in the memory. The state of constant vigilance and threat expectations was also present among the victims of the disasters. Their condition was often complicated by somatic disorders and diseases connected mainly with the nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, and endocrine systems.
PTSD treatment after the disasters must be complex, combining medication and psychotherapy. The treatment of PTSD includes all groups of psychotropic drugs: tranquilizers, hypnotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and, in some cases, anticonvulsants and stimulants (Feldner, Monson, & Friedman, 2007). Good results were obtained through a technique which taught the disaster survivors to focus on the bright distracting memories at the beginning of the attack (Creamer, O'Donnell, & Pattison, 2004). Such therapy formed the habit of automatic concentration on neutral or positive emotions thus bypassing the traumatic experience.
Phases of Disaster Recovery
1) Acute emotional shock.
This phase was sharper during the London bombings because of the faster means of information dissemination. In 2005, the information about the explosions spread across the UK and the whole world within minutes due to mobile phones, social networks, TV, and radio. The shock was short, lasting several hours, but extremely intense. In 1915, the shock phase was longer since the information reached people hours and even days later. Besides, it was wartime; Lusitania victims were neither the first nor the last casualties of the WWI. So, the shock stage was less intensive.
2) Psychophysiological demobilization.
Psychophysiological demobilization is a sense of loss resulting in panic reaction, lowering of moral behavioral norms, and increase of erroneous actions. In this phase, the behavior and feelings of people in 1915 and 2005 were absolutely different. Lusitania disaster caused revanchist attitudes: the British wanted to take revenge for the German attack. London bombings led to confusion and panic among citizens at this stage as they were used to peaceful life. The terrorist attack was sudden, the enemy was not defined: the terrorists were British, they could live next door. Therefore, the sense of hurt and wish to revenge transformed into the feeling of helplessness and defenselessness.
3) Psychological discharge phase.
For both disasters, the psychological discharge phase included stabilization of people’s mood and health, reduced emotional background, the wish to express the feelings, reflection on their emotions, behavior, and losses. This phase is quite long; it causes serious risks of psychopathic diseases. Traumatizing factors became chronic for some of the survivors and people involved resulting in extension of the stress influence.
4) Restoration phase.
The restoration phase is a stage of returning to normal life. In the case of Lusitania disaster, this phase had a deferred character since the WWI lasted for 3 more years. However, the restorative effect was stronger because of the final victory. People understood that their losses were not vain. In 2005, on the other hand, the restoration was somewhat incomplete. Many people are still afraid of new terrorist attacks. This fear is a powerful obstacle to psychological recovery and sense of safety (Deegan, 1992). The war against terrorism is still ongoing, so the traumatizing factor remains active.
The psychological impact of Lusitania sinking and London bombings is similar since both of them had wide public resonance and influenced lives of millions of people. Lusitania disaster rallied nations against Germany during the WWI, same as London bombings united the world in its struggle against terrorism. Individual psychological consequences for participants and people involved in both cases included PTSD, emotional shock, and phases of recovery. However, some differences are also present. The main distinction is in the essence of enemy. During the wartime, casualties are an inevitable part of military actions, so psychological reaction to them is less acute. Terrorist attacks are more unexpected and cause longer and more severe stress to the participants and the whole society.
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